In a series of articles Vangelis and Eleni Vassalos from IAMATA (Langada) will tell you more details about the Amorgian world of herbs, the islands biodiversity and handling of herbs. Starting with Sage – the “king” of the herbs on Amorgos, the story will be contuinued.
There are about 700 species of sage worldwide, with Salvia Officinalis being the most widespread, commonly known as the Garden Sage. On Amorgos we find many populations of another species of this great medicinal aromatic family: it is the Salvia Triloba, (its leaves form triads on its stem) also found on other islands and certain parts of the mainland. In fact it is a subspecies of Salvia Fruticosa, also known as Greek Sage.
It is a perennial plant with grayish green leaves with a silvery hairy covering that you meet in different parts of the island, especially covering the mountains and valleys of the NE region. It likes sunny areas and prefers rather dry, well drained soils so it is drought resistant, very well suited to the geology and microclimate of Amorgos, hence its fine quality, strong fragrance and richness of essential oil. It frequently develops woolly galls about 2-3cm in diameter which are called ‘apples’, from which both its latin (: fruit bearing) and the Greek name derives; faskomilo (: apple bearing).
Salvia is depicted in a Minoan fresco 1400 BC at Knossos on Crete. It has been used since ancient times for warding off evil, snakebites, increasing women’s fertility, and various rites and rituals. Many cultures from ancient times until today perform fumigations by burning bundles of sage for purifications in their residencies and for their ceremonies and rituals. (A similar effect nowadays can be obtained by spraying with the sage hydrosol, that is the flower water we get during sage distillation-see note). Romans considered it to be a sacred plant and performed rituals, in order to cut it. Theophrastus was referring to sage as “elelisphakos”, which resembles to the common name used on Amorgos: “Alisfakia “
Through the ages, many herbalists, doctors, botanical researchers and healers have recommended sage for virtually every ailment.
The reputation of sage as a panacea, also stems from both its common and botanical names, which derive from the latin word, salvere , which means” to be saved” .The medieval proverb: “Why should a man die, in whose garden sage is growing?” also refers to its various healing properties. Also in Middle Ages It was called S. salvatrix (Sage the Savior), used to make elixirs for longevity, and was one of the ingredients of the ”Four Thieves Vinegar”, a blend of herbs which was supposed to ward off the plague. As for the species Salvia Divinorum, like its name indicates, it is a mild psychotropic plant that is being used for esoteric divination purposes.
Modern evidence comes to verify traditional claims and shows possible uses of sage as an oestrogenic, anhidrotic(against excessive perspiration), antibiotic, antifungal, astringent, antispasmodic, hypoglycemic, diuretic, etc. (the first two properties show potential application for gynecological conditions such as dysmenorrhea, menopause etc)
To make a cup of Sage Tea, simply pour a cup of boiling water on to a pot with a teaspoonful of the dried herb. Cover the pot and steep for 4 to 10 min. depending how strong you like it to be. Strain and (optionally) add a little honey and-or lemon (esp. in conditions of cold) the result is a pleasant drink, to enjoy either hot or cold. Depending on the time of day, on health condition, on the season, or simply on the taste, it can be combined with other herbs.
Medicinally, sage tea has traditionally been used for cooling fevers, and also as a cleanser and purifier of the blood. You can also get the health benefits of sage tea by gargling with it or using it as a mouthwash (see note) to treat inflammations of the mouth, throat infections and tonsils, dental abscesses, gums and mouth ulcers, as its volatile oils soothe the mucous membranes.
Culinary use of sage
Fresh or dry sage leaves are used to enhance taste and aroma of many dishes, including meet (it helps the digestion of fatty meat such as pork or sausages), fish, potatoes, even soups and sauces. it flavors oils and vinegars(which in turn is used for marinates). Fresh sage can be stored for some days in the fridge by wrapping the leaves in a damp paper towel, and placing in a plastic bag.
The oil of Greek sage (S.triloba-fruticoza) is healthier with more subtle fragrance than common sage due to its lower content in Ketones (camphor–thujones) . The numerous benefits of sage can be received via its essential oil internally by pharmaceutical means or externally by way of physiotherapy (aromatherapy for the body, when dissolved in base oils or for the air, when burned in aroma lambs) or as a content in natural cosmetics. It is worth mentioning the tonic and balancing and mild euphoric effect on the nervous system, which brings clarity to the mind in times of critical emotional and mental fatigue. It is wise for pregnant, or breastfeeding women, or people on conventional stimulants or sedatives to consult their doctor or herbalist as to how, or whether to use sage or not.
Dried sage is never missing from any household on the island, many people still drink sage tea, simply to their delight or to sooth a sore throat or an upset stomach or to raise the spirit. Every café on the island will suggest sage first of all, on request of an herbal tea. Local people on occasions rub their teeth and gums with sage leaves to improve mouth hygiene, or chew them to heal mouth abscesses. they like to pick the galls (sage ‘apples”) to peal and eaten them when they are soft. They are indeed fragrant, juicy, and tasty. The bees love sage blossoms (see photo) and beekeepers proudly praise the local sage honey (our team at IΑΜΑΤΑ only pick sage well after the flowering and seed producing season, to give bees a chance to harvest first!). In the past they use to smoke sausages by burning sage, and to clean their clay pots with a bouquet of sage, oak leaves and cedar. People made use of the old stills for producing raki to distill sage on occasions, in order to obtain even small quantities of “alisfakolatho” i.e. sage essential oil. They found it very useful as a medicine for the bees, they applied it to arthritic knees, and they mixed it with wine and put compresses on the forehead to relieve headaches. The sage on the island would only have friends, in the absence of goats! These otherwise lovely animals have recently become great destructors of the local flora. In earlier times they only nibbled the plant for very short periods. It was their medicine, the farmers claimed. Now they are simply overdosing, sage being in their main menu, due to overgrazing and lack of food as the climate become dryer! (see photo) There is a local claim not to pick a bush of sage that is overlooking the sea! (see photo). This probably refers to a fact that’s been tested by recent research that the higher the altitude the better the quality of the sage crop.
IAMATA in Langatha can supply the finest Amorgos sage (pacaged dry leaves or in bundles) and two of our favorite sage mixtures are the ΙΑΜΑ and GAIA (www.iamata.gr for details). We also distill first quality Salvia Triloba essential oil at our new laboratory, as well as the very popular sage flower water (hydrosol from sage distilation) an excellent skin (tonifying, hydrating, cleansing) and atmosphere freshener –purifier.
Photos by Vangelis Vassalos